Matt Giteau’s return to Australia for the Rugby Championship is in doubt, with Top 14 side Toulon putting a major spanner in the Wallabies’ tournament plans.
Giteau has remained in France as the Wallabies convened in camp ahead of the Rugby Championship, starting on August 20, but it is still believed that he is a chance of joining the squad before the first Test.
The 102-Test veteran has been involved in a sticky situation with club Toulon, who have in the past withheld players’ payments for choosing to play internationals rather than staying with the club.
The inside centre was sorely missed in Australia’s 3-0 series loss to England, with Samu Kerevi initially playing 12, after the late arrival of Christian Lealiifano into camp and an injury to Matt Toomua.
First day back for the old boys.. 🔴⚫️ Would of been more comfortable in a chair watching the boys train 😂😂 pic.twitter.com/1luZHILKkW— Matt Giteau (@giteau_rugby) July 26, 2016
Both Giteau and winger Drew Mitchell, who is in Sydney training with the Wallabies, reportedly took significant pay cuts to play in last year’s World Cup.
World Rugby’s regulation nine stipulates that clubs must release players for international duty in certain windows if selected but Toulon owner Mourad Boudjellal has said in the past threatened to refuse to play players if they leave.
The Aussie pair are by no means the only ones affected, with Boudjellal saying ahead of last year’s World Cup that internationals would not be easily let go for the 2016 June Test window, viewing the Tests as “friendlies.”
At the same time as the June Tests, the top 14 sides were playing out their finals campaigns, with the season not finishing until June 25 Australian time.
“I hope that our international players will choose to stay in France,” Boudjellal told French paper Midi Olympique at the time.
“It seems obvious to me that the clubs, who pay the wages, should have their stars for the most important dates of the season.
“At that point, it’s not four (league) points that you can catch up on and I recall that those Test matches, on the contrary, are friendlies. I hope the unions are understanding. But generally, we deal with people of real egotism.”
He went on to threaten that any players who opted to play for Test sides in that window would be asked to “look for another club”.
Sekope Kepu was the only Wallabies player brought back from France during the England series, after being granted an early release from his Bordeaux contract.
Boudjellal pulled out the warning in June, with Wales fullback Leigh Halfpenny in the mix to represent Wales, though he was overlooked for the internationals.
Welsh prop Gethin Jenkins also found himself in the middle of a club vs international fight at Toulon, with Boudjellal preventing him from an early release for the 2013 British and Irish Lions tour of Australia.
Ultimately injury prevented Jenkins from taking part in that tour, but the prop returned to the Blues the next season.
The rest of the Wallabies have been training in Sydney this week, before heading to a Central Coast training camp in the next two days.
It’s a location familiar for Wallabies back Adam Ashley-Cooper, who played his junior rugby at Ourimbah.
"The only reason I’ve returned from France is because they finally followed through up my request to have camp on the Coast," he joked.
"I am always proud and honoured to say that I was born and raised on the Central Coast. The people, culture and beaches are some of the best in the world.
"I know Wallabies players love getting out and about around the country and visiting towns out of the major cities, but I guess this one is extra special from me because I’m returning home.”